Before an informational interview

You might need to learn more about a career field to determine your degree path in college. Maybe you want an “in” with a particular company. Or perhaps you’re considering changing careers or seeking a promotion into a career zone that’s unfamiliar. Whatever your reasons, requesting an informational interview can feel pretty intimidating. Here are some tips to ease your nerves and help you prepare.


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  1. Ask the right person for the right reasons. Do you know how many people randomly ask professionals to meet with them for 30 minutes for an informational interview yet don’t give adequate thought to why they’re asking? Many—and this is why some mentors and seasoned professionals are a bit aloof when you ask for an informational interview.If you’re going to ask someone for 10 minutes of talk time, be sure you’re asking the right person first. Do you want advice about starting a consulting business? Ask an entrepreneur who’s started her own consulting business. Are you considering leaving teaching as a career? Ask someone for advice who’s already been there, done it, and is happy with the outcome (and ask someone who wishes he’d never left, too, because balance in perspective is crucial when making career decisions).
  2. After you’ve identified a great person to interview, nail down your purpose for the interview. Notice “purpose” is singular—don’t ask more than 3-5 questions unless you’re sending questions via email. And even then, respect your interviewee’s time by sticking to a clear, concise plan. Don’t forget to clearly communicate your purpose when requesting the interview. Most people don’t want to agree to spend 30 minutes with a pseudo-stranger unless there’s a stated purpose/plan or perceived benefit.
  3. As much as you need to be clear and concise, you also need to be flexible. If your interviewee offers you a tour of her company’s manufacturing facilities, by all means, say yes! Does that mean you’ll spend an hour and a half there instead of the 30 minutes you expected? Yes, and that’s fabulous! Leave your schedule open for at least a 2-hour block of time when you schedule an informational interview; however, try to watch the clock and wrap up your line of questioning in 30 minutes unless your interviewee is obviously enjoying herself and rambling. Let her go on and on if she likes. She’s the expert/mentor, so sit back, listen, and absorb her experience and knowledge.
  4. While we’re on the subject of time management, remember to arrive on time. There’s simply no way to make a worst first impression than to arrive terribly late. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, call ahead to let your interviewee know what’s happening. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, ask if he would rather reschedule or continue with the interview. Be prepared for him to request to reschedule.
  5. Prepare your list of questions (3-5, ideally) and bring a hard copy with you. It’s very distracting to talk to someone while she’s clicking or scrolling on an electronic device. Put your phone down, leave the laptop at home, and break out a pen and paper for informational interviews. This allows you to make better eye contact and display your soft skills, including active listening and mindfulness.
  6. Be prepared to tell your interviewee a bit about yourself, too. Create an elevator pitch and practice in advance to avoid stumbling over your words when he asks you to tell him about your own career background and goals.
  7. If you plan to share information learned during the interview in an essay, an article, or a post on social media, get permission from your interviewee first. And good grief, NEVER record someone without his permission either.
  8. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. If you’re meeting on-site at a company or office, dress professionally (business casual). If you’re meeting for coffee or lunch on the weekend or in the evening, tone it down slightly. But remember, just as when dressing for job interviews, you’re not trying to show off your assets during an informational interview. This meeting is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you by selecting flashy or provocative clothing.Dress comfortably, not just appropriately, because sometimes we can’t predict how far we’ll walk from the parking lot to the building or whether we will climb three flights of stairs. An informational interview isn’t the time to wear new shoes or a tight, straight skirt.
  9. Follow up and express gratitude. This should always be your last step. Don’t walk away from an informational interview, shake hands, and forget to send an email or thank you card (I prefer thank you cards). Connect on social media, too. This makes it easy for you to regularly touch base with your new contact, mentor, and friend.

An informational interview can be a great strategy in your career development or job search process. But knowing when to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and how to pull it off can be tricky. Contact me if you might benefit from networking coaching or an interview prep session.

Dealing with grief in the workplace

Last week, I was called out of class while teaching as an adjunct faculty member. A coworker informed me that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. If I wanted to see her, I needed to leave class immediately. I was glad I left after informing my students that I had to tend to a family emergency. My grandmother died less than 24 hours later. That night, after grieving with my family, I received an email notifying me that a good friend had committed suicide. Needless to say, I felt completely overwhelmed by loss, sadness, and grief. The entire weekend, I was certainly unproductive and did zero work.

But that’s what I needed to do. Because I’ve experienced other major losses and catastrophes in the past, I know that to take good care of myself, I need to let myself feel the weight of the loss as it’s happening. If I don’t, it comes back to haunt me later.

Thankfully, my division chair, career coaching clients, and business partners were all very understanding and supportive. I rescheduled a conference call and a call with a client. But I can’t wallow in grief forever. I have a business to run and students to teach. I created this video to share five ways I appropriately cope with grief in the workplace. I hope some of these tips may help you cope with your own personal losses while continuing to work, produce, and grow in your career journey.


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Communicate.

As quickly as possible after you experience a loss or begin handling a personal crisis, tell your supervisor, clients/students, and coworkers about your situation. You can do this in a quick email or text message. When you communicate about the crisis or loss right away, it lets your employer know that you take your job seriously but that you’re going to need help handling your responsibilities temporarily.

Be real, but don’t let it all hang out.

Be honest about your crisis or loss, but don’t share all the sad, dirty details with your employer, clients, or coworkers. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to show up at work every day to find one of your coworkers crying her eyes out for eight hours? Of course not.

Seek outside help if you’re overwhelmed with loss and cannot control your emotions. That’s a normal part of the grieving process. We hire experts to help us with many things–writing resumes, changing the oil in our cars, and even cleaning our homes and offices. Why not hire an expert to help you grieve? A therapist can keep you grounded and provide a sounding board while you cope with your loss and help you avoid dumping your emotions on people at work. If you can’t afford counseling, consider attending free grief support groups in your area. And of course, reach out to your mentor when you need to talk.

Take time off.

Don’t beat yourself up for needing time to grieve. Take time off if necessary. Be sure to talk to your human resources department to comply with standards for leaves of absence.

Re-prioritize.

You can’t expect yourself to perform at 100% while you’re grieving. Be realistic and operate in something like survival mode while grieving. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What can I remove from my plate right now?
  • Are there projects or tasks I can put off temporarily (without missing deadlines or damaging relationships at work)?
  • Who can I delegate some of my tasks to for a short period of time?

Extend gratitude.

When you suffer loss, you’ll likely receive text messages, emails, phone calls, and cards from your boss, clients, and colleagues. Don’t forget to say thank you to those who offer condolences or step up to help manage your work tasks while you’re grieving. This will help you maintain strong relationships at work and keep your professional network intact.

Connect with me for career coaching assistance, soft skills training, and presentations on career-related topics.

 

Giving to your network during the holidays

‘Tis the season for giving, and who better to give back to than your professional network?

We’re all thankful for people who have aided us as we’ve searched for jobs, sought promotions, and struggled in our professional lives. Here are some quick, easy, affordable gifts to give to your connections this holiday season.

  1. Updated contact information

Have you recently provided your contacts, particularly those who frequently serve as references during your job search, with updated contact information? Send your closest contacts a greeting card along with your updated contact information. Don’t forget to ask them for their updated contact information, too.

2. Letter of reference

If you haven’t already endorsed and recommended your contacts on LinkedIn, do it this week. Consider writing a genuine, old-fashioned letter of reference, too. Email it in PDF format to your connection. He will appreciate it the next time he begins searching for a job, and who knows, he may reciprocate and send you one in return!

3. Offer to collaborate or partner

Do you have connections who are trustworthy, hard-working, dependable, and share common career interests? Consider partnering with them on research projects, fundraisers, or other tasks. Collaboration is very 2017.

4. A listening ear

Everyone in your network appreciates a great listener. If you ask someone how she’s doing, listen to the entire response, and then respond thoughtfully, you will deepen your connection with your contact.

5. Your mentorship

If someone in your network has recently graduated, taken on a new role, or transitioned into a new career field (and you have years of experience to share), offer to mentor this person or at least share your experience if desired. Most of us have been mentored professionally by our supervisors, colleagues, or other generous professionals. Take the time to give back to your connections similarly.

6. Volunteer work

Does one of your contacts manage a non-profit organization or volunteer for the board of a non-profit organization? Consider volunteering alongside your friend. Not only will you become better acquainted with your connection, but you’ll also form new connections with other volunteers while donating time for a good cause.

7. Sharing causes

If you feel comfortable sharing your connections’ social media posts related to various non-profits and other great causes, share away. Your connections will thank you for spreading the word about their events and for raising awareness, and you’ll be doing some good in the world, too.

8. Spreading good news

Has someone in your network contributed to the world in a valuable way? Has she earned an award at work recently or donated her time to Big Brothers Big Sisters? Brag on your contact by sharing this good news on social media. Tag your friend. This helps brand your contact in a positive light, and it demonstrates that you share positive news, too. Everyone wins.

9. Showing support during tough times

Be mindful of those in your network who may be having a tough time during the holidays, too. It never hurts to send a “thinking of you” email or to ask someone who’s experienced a loss how she’s doing during the holidays.

10. Coffee and cookies.

If all else fails, just bake some cookies and buy great coffee. You really can’t go wrong with these two full-proof gifts.

Enjoy the season. Enjoy one another. Enjoy life.

If you need help navigating your own career journey, email me to schedule a free consultation. Start 2017 out right. 

Branding yourself with gratitude

When your coworkers mention you—when you’ve stepped out of the room, or when you didn’t join them for lunch—what do they say? Are you mindfully branding yourself in the workplace in hopes they’ll be lifting you up, not tearing you down? When former supervisors and colleagues respond for requests for references during a job search, what characteristics and values will they attribute to you?

Consider working to develop an attitude of gratitude; it can benefit your relationships with colleagues, supervisors, and clients. It can also improve your outlook on your current position within your organization, even if you’re not working in your dream job.

Let’s talk about how the practice of gratitude improves your behavior, transforms your attitude and outlook, and sharpens your branding and networking skills in the workplace (and even your job search).

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How did I become an expert on gratitude? I learned this lesson the way I learn many lessons—the hard way. I had an incredibly cynical, negative attitude at one point in my life. I allowed my circumstances to drag me down, particularly related to my job at the time, which I still contend was “the worst job of all time.” My mentor instructed me to begin sending her a daily gratitude list via email. I had to document three unique, specific items each day, and I couldn’t repeat items on the list. I included things like, “I’m thankful today that when I merged onto the interstate, I remembered to put my coffee in the cup holder first because I was cut off, and otherwise it would have spilled onto my white pants. So I didn’t have to worry about removing stains, stopping to buy new pants before my meeting, or anything like that. Yay!” Over time, my mind began identifying positive moments more easily; I completed this assignment for over 1000 consecutive days.

It changed me. This habit has become second nature to me. In the workplace, it’s a game changer. I’m now less likely to identify problems and pick them apart. I want to help identify solutions instead. And trust me, this isn’t my personality type. I’m less disgruntled and discontent. Don’t you think this makes me more pleasant to work with? Don’t you want to be more pleasant to work with? I promise you every employer wants to hire pleasant, kind employees.

It’s important to remember this: gratitude is more than simply saying thank you. It’s a way of life. It’s a result of taking actions regardless of circumstances. We choose to behave as if we were thankful even when we don’t feel like it. In the workplace, this isn’t always easy, but if we choose gratitude over grumbling, we feel better about ourselves at the end of the day, and we build better relationships. This means we brand ourselves as people who are kind, generous, thoughtful, considerate, humble, joyful, and inclusive.

How can you practically practice gratitude in the workplace?

  1. When interacting with clients, customers, patients, students, or the public, treat them well. Make them a priority; they do matter, you know. Remember to greet them with a smile and a handshake. Invite them into your place of business (virtually or otherwise). Share a freebie. Create a welcoming atmosphere. Try to cut down on wait time. Improve your response time online. Say goodbye and ask them to return again soon. Remember, your clients may not remember what you say, but they’ll remember how you treat them. Word-of-mouth is your best advertisement. Treating your clients as if you were thankful for them—even if you’re having a bad day or feel rushed—is key to a successful business/organization, and it’s also key to living a life you feel proud of when your head hits the pillow at night.
  2. When serving on teams or committees at work or in the community, attempt to smile and serve with a positive attitude. Many times, we don’t approach these tasks with gratitude. We forget that many people are unemployed and underemployed and would love the opportunity to sit in our chairs, listening to our coworkers discuss upcoming events or debate about seemingly trivial matters. Keeping the big picture in mind can help you find gratitude even in your least favorite tasks at work.
  3. Display willingness to serve. Clean up after meetings without being asked. Tidy up the breakroom if you have a few extra minutes. Bring a dozen doughnuts on Friday. Donate your time to help another team when they put out a call for help via email rather than refusing to respond. Volunteer for events and activities as time permits. Expressing willingness can demonstrate gratitude for your part within the organization. When you’re grateful, you give back.
  4. If you’re a supervisor, regularly thank your employees. Host a recognition day or reception. Keep it simple to conserve costs, but make the effort to ensure people feel appreciated. There are fun and affordable ways to extend kudos for contributions. Consider doing a social media shout out on a regular basis. Who doesn’t love that in this day and age?
  5. Express gratitude to everyone, not just people who can promote you. Does the maintenance crew regularly empty your trash or clean your office? Leave them a gift with a note on your desk at night. Bag the trash for them occasionally to save them a step. When you visit the on-site deli or café, purchase a gift card for the administrative assistant anonymously.

Do things for fun and for free, expecting nothing in return. Taking these actions—and expecting nothing in return—will transform you individually. When you become a better person, you’ll behave differently. When you behave as a more thoughtful, more considerate, more joyful, and more productive employee, you will gain attention from colleagues and supervisors. This is the heart of branding, but all terminology and self-promotion aside, it’s really the heart of being a decent human being.

And that’s what really matters.

Let me help with your branding, networking, and other career coaching and workplace communication needs. For more pointers on your job search and workplace relationships, follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

 

 

5 networking mistakes to avoid during meetings

Meetings. Ugh. How many of us truly look forward to most meetings?

In the workplace, they’re a necessary evil. If we want to effectively communicate with our colleagues, supervisors, employees, and clients, we better learn to effectively manage meetings.

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Even if you’re not the manager of the meeting, you can personally benefit from participating fully in meetings, maintaining a positive attitude, paying attention to everyone, and “turning on your listening ears,” as I often advise my resident preschooler.

Why? Because meetings are great places–physical places or virtual places–for professional networking. Think about it–some of your lasting impressions of your boss and your favorite (or least favorite) coworkers were probably formed during meetings. They might say the same about you. When you seek a promotion internally, you rely on the impressions formed in the workplace (during meetings, over coffee, at lunch). When you move on to another company, you want to leave on great terms so you can ask your former colleagues to serve as references for you. This is all part of professional networking.

Clearly, meetings matter.

Here are five classic networking mistakes you’ll want to avoid making during meetings.

1. Arriving late.

Arriving on time to meetings is the easiest way to win friends in the workplace. No one likes to wait on the late person. Don’t be the late person.

If you cannot avoid late arrival, call/text/email in advance. If you genuinely forget or must show up late without notifying your meeting mates in advance, apologize verbally and discreetly without upsetting the entire flow of the meeting when you enter. Offer a more extensive apology (with explanation) after the meeting unless the meeting manager stops the meeting and asks for an explanation when you enter the room/call. It’s one thing to be late–it’s another thing to throw off the whole meeting by causing a scene when you arrive. This behavior leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, and this is a great way to guarantee your coworkers will put you on their bad lists permanently.

2. Lots of talking and very little listening.

Unless you’re a presenter or speaker during the meeting, you should aim to speak less than you listen to others. It’s fine to chime in, make key points, and ask questions, but do so thoughtfully. Pay attention to how many times you chime in. You don’t need to say everything you think. Trust me–your coworkers will thank you for withholding some of your brilliant epiphanies. Instead, take great notes during the meeting, and if you brainstorm long enough, you’ll either find that those epiphanies weren’t that worthwhile after all or that you’re onto something excellent which you should share with your boss in a private meeting.

3. Debbie Downer vibes.

Nobody (except for another Debbie Downer) wants to sit with or network with a Debbie Downer during a meeting. Negative people bring down the mood in a room, and long-term, you want people to remember you as someone with positive energy. What if you seek a promotion within the company in six months? Do you think the woman attending committee meetings with you–who’s observed your negative attitude for six months–is going to advocate for you to join her team? Not likely. You don’t have to be fake in order to be polite and courteous; be yourself, but be the best version of yourself. If you’re not naturally bubbly, don’t pretend to be.

4. Dropping the ball.

If you agreed to take minutes, do so. If you signed up to gather donations for an upcoming fundraiser for a charity, have this task completed before the next meeting. Don’t drop the ball and leave your coworkers hanging. Networking is simply building relationships. Building relationships is all about building trust. People will trust you if you prove yourself trustworthy, and if you drop the ball, you will prove yourself untrustworthy.

5. Failure to show gratitude.

When you share your experience or knowledge with someone, doesn’t it feel good to receive a verbal “thank you,” a thank you note or email, or a small token of appreciation? The same goes for your attitude in meetings. If someone in your meeting offers advice or helpful feedback, thank them. Don’t reserve thank you notes for post-interview moments. There is never a bad time to say thank you, and your acquaintances, coworkers, and friends (part of your professional network) will feel appreciated when you do.

How are your workplace communication skills? Did you know that in a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2015, communication skills ranked third on a list of “must haves” for new hires by employers? Contact me to schedule a free consultation to discuss communication skills/soft skills career coaching.